I’ve been having a debate (what else to call it?) on Facebook lately with a couple of friends over whether religion can be held responsible for its homophobic teachings. I say it can and should, whereas my friends disagree. They suggest that prejudice most likely has a different explanation, and religions simply capitalize on pre-existing feelings of hatred and fear. That’s quite true. But religion has crystallized these emotions and normalized them for billions of people, weaving them into the fabric of belief. To be a Roman Catholic who does not think homosexuals are “disordered”, or “unnatural” is to have shed an important part of that belief system, and one that is hammered home at every opportunity by those in charge of Roman Catholic beliefs.
Once, when I was flirting with religious belief, I was on the road to such thinking as well. I remember quite vividly the way in which my perception of sexuality became more prudish. I was reading the Bible and trying hard to put my thinking in line with what I thought was a “Jewish” view of sexuality. While I never became homophobic, I did begin to think differently about two men having sex (but not two women). I began to adopt more “conservative” or “traditional” opinions. And this opinion was rather negative, as I recall it.
It didn’t stick, though. The more I studied and tried hard to ignore the cognitive dissonance of “believing” while going to the movies on Friday evening – which is strictly forbidden by Jewish law – the more I felt like the whole edifice was just that: an artificial construct. Then it fell, just like the cardboard cut-out it was.
The experience was useful, however, for it put me in the mind of a believer for a short time. Some might say this isn’t accurate, as I was never really any such thing. Either way, it felt a lot like what I’ve read over and over again about the tension people feel when they put their religious beliefs to the test and decide they can’t go on lying to themselves.
To get back to homophobia, though. In my admittedly anecdotal experience, I was aware of a change taking place. And that wasn’t because of radical preachers, fundamentalist company or any such thing; it was what I had begun to intuit about the Bible itself and its archaic worldview (I even began to wonder how one might make sacrifices in the 21st century). I only wished to get in line and act, well, religious.
Thankfully, this proved rather difficult. I have a bad habit of analyzing things to death, and for me whatever ad-hoc idea of God I’d begun to formulate in my head vanished under scrutiny. By the time I’d finished reading The End of Faith, I had accepted that the religious life – and accompanying worldview – wasn’t for me.
In fact, more than anything it was the way an even diluted religious belief messed with my mind that turned me off. It was a bit like drugs (I’ve had bad experiences on both). It was the realization that I wasn’t in full control, that I felt puppeted, manipulated by the things I was reading. I even began to entertain creationism, which is a perfect example of the way religion can damage one’s thinking; I can think of no other reason on Earth anyone would question the evidence for evolution if not for a religious (read: Abrahamic) worldview.
As an atheist I’m always discussing religion with people who will discuss it with me. Having briefly tasted belief, I’m curious to know what others experience and how it affects them. Some even quip that I’m more “religious” than the religious because I take belief seriously. Well, I’ve seen what it can do, and it’s heady stuff. Trust me.
* Some people think I’m an asshole now, of course; but they don’t know what was happening inside my head then.